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U.S.: Conference On Fighting Terrorism Reveals Familiar Political Fault Lines

  • Robert McMahon

Leaders from Western, Muslim, and developing nations have called for more efforts to battle terrorism by resolving disputes and addressing social and economic problems. But their efforts to find common "root causes" of terrorism -- one day before the annual UN General Assembly debate -- became ensnared in familiar disputes over affairs in the Middle East and Kashmir. RFE/RL reports on yesterday's antiterrorism conference in New York.

New York, 23 September 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A high-level conference on the eve of the UN General Assembly debate signaled the difficulties states will face in articulating common policies against terrorism in the months ahead.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and most of the 20 world leaders at the conference yesterday in New York said responses to terrorism need to go beyond the use of force. Annan spoke out against such government responses to terrorism as torture of prisoners, targeted assassinations, or the bombing of cities. He said terrorist groups could become strengthened by the backlash to such actions.

"To fight terrorism, we must not only fight terrorists. We have to win hearts and minds. To do this, we should act to resolve political disputes, articulate and work toward a vision of peace and development and promote human rights. And we can only do all this effectively if we work together through multilateral institutions -- first and foremost, the United Nations," Annan said.

Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, decried the frequent linking of terrorism and Islam. But he said many of today's unresolved political disputes involve Muslims, some of whom have become trapped in a state of hopelessness and frustration. "Foreign occupation and the suppression of the right of peoples to self-determination leading to a sense of despair is a direct cause for suicide bombings and terrorist acts," Musharraf said.

Musharraf said that "legitimate movements for self-determination" cannot be equated with terrorism. He referred to his country's long-time clash with India over Kashmir, where tens of thousands of people have been killed in an insurgency which Pakistan calls an indigenous struggle for self-determination. India accuses Pakistan of training and sending Muslim militants into Kashmir.

But the Pakistani president also said his government is ready for dialogue with India. And Musharraf -- a key U.S. ally in efforts against Al-Qaeda -- called on the Muslim world to shun militancy and extremism. "We must reform those madrassahs which are preaching hatred, extremism, and militancy," he said. "We must concentrate on emancipating ourselves through an emphasis on the social sector, raising the level of our education and health standards and pursuing social justice and poverty eradication, which is rampant in the Muslim world."

Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai told the conference his country has succeeded in ending the "rule of terrorism" by the Taliban. Karzai said Afghanistan's neighbors need to help eradicate terrorist forces from the region. He did not specifically mention Pakistan, where many Taliban fighters are now reported to be based.

"We need a sincere, frank, real cooperation between the countries in the region and the forces of the [U.S.-led military] coalition to not only remove terrorism physically but also from the hideouts and [remove] the instruments that are available to them from societies and governments around us," Karzai said. Karzai will elaborate on his country's reconstruction efforts in his address to the UN General Assembly later today (9:30 p.m. Prague time).

Palestinian and Israeli representatives at the conference, meanwhile, engaged in a familiar dispute over the cause of escalating violence in the Middle East.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath lashed out at what he called Israel's state-sponsored terrorism against Palestinians in its campaigns against militants. He said the Palestinian leadership rejects terrorism everywhere and urged international help in solving the conflict with Israel. "We need the international community to intervene, to provide protection for both our civilian populations and to implement a peace process based on the 'road map' returning us to peace, ending the scourge of occupation and the scourge of terrorism," he said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom repeated his government's charge that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has permitted widespread terrorist acts under his authority. Israel has threatened Arafat's expulsion. "Yasser Arafat, for example, may be seen by some of you as a symbol of the Palestinian struggle," he said. "He is also -- and I would like you to know it -- one of the world's icons of terror."

The highest-ranking U.S. official at the conference was Senator Richard Lugar, chairman of the U.S. Senate's powerful Foreign Relations Committee. Lugar stressed the need for a global campaign to bring weapons of mass destruction under control. But he also said Washington needs to devise a new strategy in its war on terrorism.

Lugar, a Republican, said the government must make better use of its diplomatic and economic levers to improve conditions around the world and marginalize terrorist actors. He said until now there has been too much emphasis on military responses and tightening homeland security. "What is missing from American political discourse is support for the painstaking work of foreign policy and the commitment of resources to vital foreign policy objectives that lack a direct domestic political constituency," Lugar said.

U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to discuss his administration's "softer" approaches to bolstering global stability in his speech later today at the General Assembly. He has already proposed a sharp increase in U.S. aid to developing countries and has asked the U.S. Congress for more than $2 billion for next year's budget to fight HIV/AIDS in the developing world.

Bush's speech will be closely watched for his comments about U.S. plans for administering post-Saddam Hussein Iraq. Washington is hoping to attract more international support for peacekeeping and reconstruction efforts in Iraq.